It’s already dim outside and the sandwich for the journey was finished between Kiel and Hamburg – but my little daughter doesn’t want to get out yet. She likes the car, the music from the radio and the many bright switches around Daddy’s steering wheel. She asks if she can come and sit in the front with me. Of course she can. We park the car and I turn off the engine so the small, one-quarter Finnish princess can take over the driver’s seat and give free rein to her curiosity. She comes crawling through between the front seats, sits down on my lap behind the steering wheel that’s far too big for her, and looks with great big enthusiastic eyes at the many lights and switches around her. There aren’t that many if I compare it with new cars, but at four years old (“Daddy! Four and a half!”) she sees things differently.

They’re subtle and almost amber-colored, these small electromechanical switches in the Mercedes that was built twelve years before she was born. She presses a few buttons and turns a few knobs with a certain degree of apprehension. She particularly likes the big round one for the fan because it’s nice and warm. Hm, OK little one, how best to explain how lamps work, let’s see. Electricity moves through a very thin wire which is inside a small glass bottle. It then gets so hot that it starts to glow. Most of the electricity ensures that everything around the glass bottle gets warmer. But some of the electricity will also be turned into light. And that’s what you can see here. Back in the day they built all lamps that way, not only in cars. Now there are much nicer and brighter lamps, and they don’t get as hot and don’t need as much electricity. Do you understand?

She nods knowingly and mischievously presses the button for the red hazard lights. She knows that one. When she sat behind the wheel alone and without the ignition key a few weeks ago, it was the only button that did something. And it’s such a lovely red. At the time she celebrated it by eating up the entire gummi bear supply that was stashed away in the door pocket. Now her eyes wander even further, across the buttons on the wheel which can be used to change the music. Exciting. If she presses one of them something happens elsewhere. And sometimes nothing happens. Attracted by the small red LED on the air con button, she presses it but the result is quite disappointing. It only gets warm or cold when the engine is on. Fair enough. But the windows can be moved up and down, how wonderful – the buttons are also nice and warm; other than that, early fall can stay outside.

Tomorrow I’ll vacuum up all the annoying crumbs. My three girls (I also have two big ones) have all approached cars with a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm from very early on. And I let them, and have even supported their urge to explore. Pressing a button here and there, lights on and off, turning the steering wheel – they are (and will be) extremely car-savvy ladies. The eldest has had her driver’s license for three years and the middle one is currently learning how to drive. And as far as the little quarter-Finn is concerned … well, once she’s ready cars will certainly look much different inside and outside. All very exciting. But they’ll certainly still have illuminated switches. And touch displays. We’ll see; both Osram and my (still) young daughter will definitely be part of it.

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